Posts Tagged ‘Fish’

No More Soul (food) Searching

Soul food is a variety of cuisine originating in the Southeastern US. It is common in areas with a history of slave-based plantations such as Charleston, Atlanta I call it “down home” cooking and think immediately of one of my favorite places packed with memories: New Orleans. While NOLA has its own brand of Southern food – Cajun – it’s all about soul too. My vision is an African-American family cooking together.

This is not a particularly health-mindful cuisine as many of the original cooks could not afford shortening to fry. They would use and re-use the cheaper lard. In order to be more appealing to a more food-educated society, some tradition is overlooked to save a few arteries, but ethnic preservationists argue that taste and tradition are sacrificed with the use of vegetable oil and the substitution of pork.

But what about the sweet potato? It saves the day with its beta carotene, and collard


Candied Yams

greens are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, helping to mask the other high levels of starch, fat and cholesterol. That’s why I highly recommend those two items as sides at Paula’s Soul Food Cafe in Hackensack, NJ. It’s easy to drive right by and not notice it among the two continuous rows of retail storefronts that comprise Main Street. But the word “Soul” got my attention.

I had just eaten lunch but needed to check it out for future reference. The cafeteria-style display of foods allowed me to get an overview and see its potential. Okay, I had to try something small, so I left with a side of candied yams.  That was enough to make me want to return for lunch the next Saturday.

I left there feeling a sense of culture, of family working together, even though we are in the North and the owners are Hackensack natives, which is not a town in Georgia. The Baileys opened their first location in the Bronx, and after two years, embarked on a hometown location. I saw a middle-aged gentleman dressed in a suit on the patron side of the counter, pointing at the younger man hustling behind the counter with other family members, proudly exclaiming to another: “That’s my son!” No sooner did he take off his jacket, roll up his collared shirt sleeves and jump behind the counter to assist.

After you peruse some of the items they have to offer – don’t miss out on the seafood offerings that may not be visible – you place your order and pre-pay. The food gets dished with generous portions on a plate and complemented with a piece of their cornbread (I missed the texture of some whole kernels in this version).



Your name is called for pickup.

Generally, I am turned off by deep-fried foods because I imagine the unhealthy effects taking place the moment it is being ingested. There’s something about fried okra, though, 20171119_134046that transports me geographically and emotionally. It reminds me of gumbo (which can only be eaten in New Orleans in my opinion) and of my husband, who so often spoke about not being able to get good fried okra in this part of the country, and I agreed. So he made pickled jars of okra at home. Prepared any other way, it tends to have a slimy texture, but fried adds the exterior crisp needed to enjoy this vegetable. The South has a love affair that the rest of the country doesn’t understand. They fry, pickle, grill and add the green pod to stews. It contains potassium, vitamin B, vitamin C, folic acid, and calcium. It’s low in calories and has a high dietary fiber content. And Paula’s does it right, so go for it!


Beef Short Ribs

A true testimony to the quality of food here: My tennis partner and I recently celebrated a winning match. He’s Jamaican, and I dared to suggest having a soul food lunch. As he viewed his options, he discounted the oxtail and told the woman, “I’m from Jamaica; I’ll try something else.” Our other friend got an order and offered a taste. Our MVP exclaimed, “Mmm, goodbye Jamaica!” There’s also chicken galore: baked, barbecued, fried, smothered; but the large turkey wings wound up being the dark horse.20171119_133817


Sampling Away


A Rekindled Bouley Affair

When I read that Chef Bouley would be closing his flagship restaurant, I felt like I was hearing second-hand that my boyfriend was breaking up with me. Why did I have to read about this on the popular EaterNY, where everyone else would know at the same time? We had a bond, Bouley and I, even though we hadn’t yet met. I’m sure he doesn’t recall our rendezvous during my 11th wedding anniversary. I returned a year later Rosmarie & Evyfor him to meet my mother. Okay, really it was just to celebrate Mother’s Day with a five-course lunch tasting. So you see, the two most important people in my life had been introduced to him.

Still, he sold his longtime home but didn’t leave town. In fact, I found out quickly where he resided, and so he left himself open to being stalked by a nostalgic gourmand. Truthfully, the restaurant Bouley sealed its significance in my heart when I lost my husband unexpectedly in 2016. I vowed not to return there yet, and now it’s a forced issue. But somehow, I received digital notification of an educational dining event taking place at Chef David Bouley’s new venue Bouley Botanical, an urban farms event space with over 400 species of edible plants growing in the window gardens, which are directly used in cooking the dishes served. It was a chance to reunite with my love affair – the man who epicuriously turned me on without getting near. He delivered his love to me through his food creativity.

My income doesn’t quite allow me to fulfill being a bon vivant, but I make other sacrifices of luxury to live like one occasionally, and this occasion was suitable: Inside-Out Health: Eating for Optimal Athletic Performance” with Dr. Robert G. Silverman, Duke University Defensive Lineman AJ Wolf and Chef David Bouley at Bouley Botanical. How did they know I was an athlete? Would an educational dinner take the enjoyment out of the food experience? Would it turn eating for me from an art to a science? I took a chance and made a reservation for one. Daniel would have enjoyed this immensely.

The room had one long communal table with no assigned seating. It was bright green from the glow of chlorophyll.  I felt healthy already and selected the end seat closest to the kitchen. I wanted front row on the culinary action. I took handwritten notes on nutrigenomics and how to maximize fuel based on the type of sport you play. The mention of gut rot, however, didn’t seem conducive to pre-dining conversation. I was also uncomfortably cold with the air conditioning blowing upon us on a 50-degree evening. When someone asked the event coordinator to adjust the temperature, his response irked me: “The kitchen staff gets warm.” I mumbled to myself sarcastically, “We’re more concerned about the employees’ comfort than the patrons’.” I later asked another gentleman kindly, and he immediately obliged. The diners slowly uncrossed their tight arms, and we were now ready to ingest these healthy foods that we listened so much about.IMG_4762


The first plate – Last of the season Chatham Wild Blue fin, matsutake mushrooms (which had a floral fragrance upon the tongue), and golden Osetra caviar.

The second plate came out not long after  – Organic Connecticut Farm Egg steamed in Artichoke Heart, Cesare Casella Prosciutto and Fava Beans.

Then I thought I heard a drumroll, but I imagined it because the culinary rock star slid discretely into the kitchen area and was standing off to the side until he was officially introduced. He came out to applause and spoke a bit about the ingredients used this evening and their benefits and was accompanied by a slide show. He was thrilled to share what he learned from his visits to Japan. While he spoke, a plate of Dayboat Chatham Skate sat in front of us (Eat it, wait, don’t eat it, wait?). My excuse was to not lose the temperature at which it was served. My skate skated off the plate and into my mouth before he finished speaking. Then I got up and had the honor of shaking

hands with the man who IMG_4772unknowingly participated in my culinary affair. I held his hand while we spoke, and he didn’t even know that he had helped me cheat on Eric Ripert. I didn’t want to let go of those masterful tools.

The next course piqued my interest because I have never been a fan of salmon except in sushi form. This was Wild Alaskan Salmon with buckwheat pasta, and an array of mushrooms (wild porcini, trumpet, shiitake). Blindfolded I would not have guessed salmon. The question is, however, how does the general consumer obtain that type of wild hooked salmon. Dr. Silverman commented that it would basically be too expensive.


The first of two dessert courses was light and refreshing – Biodynamic Concord Grape

Sorbet, Coconut Butter, Chestnut Honey. Dessert two was more than satisfying as the  final chapter: Cocoa Sacher Cake, 70% Valhrona Chocolate, Almond Milk and 10 Exotic Fruit sorbet, and a hard sugar-coated almond, just to put a bow on the package. But the bow wasn’t tied. A mignardises plate of about 15 assorted minis (three of each kind) was placed at our end of the table. Five of us on the end were attempting to sample one of each until we realized it was the only plate on the long table and maybe we were supposed to pass it along. Oops, where does chocolate fit into my nutrigenomics? I didn’t really want to know that answer. I pretended to want to share, passing the plate down with three tiny bites remaining for the 15 or so other people. Fortunately they all looked too full to care.IMG_4782

I walked away with energy, not feeling overstuffed and lethargic – mission accomplished. I will likely implement half of what I was educated on, half of which I was already aware. The other half I will reserve for happiness. How could I ever eliminate fresh baked breads from my palette, particularly the types Bouley used to offer? The bigger question is why would I want to be miserable?

Chef Bouley, we will have another rendezvous when I stalk you at Test Kitchen one day.  You can’t hide those epicurean eyes!







Batard: A Lone Shining Star, the Sequel


IMG_4609Not to start this out on a discordant note, but this is the sequel to my first and only visit to Batard two years ago. It was my last anniversary dinner with my husband. I felt a need to revisit the experience – alone. As I walked down North Moore street looking for the restaurant again, I had a vivid recollection of last time when we walked by the entrance two or three times. It’s a somewhat dark section of West Broadway. At 6:45, the restaurant only had two other occupied tables, and I was led through the empty room to the same table we had occupied, but this time, a chair was removed. I sat on the bench seat along the wall. I requested that table in my reservation, sillily thinking it would stir up some remnant particles of previous presence. Instead it was just a sad reminder of the absence.

But the server greeted me with a smile that I forced myself to comply with. At least I knew Michelin-starred (1 still) dishes would be on their way to me soon enough to forget about those things for a while. And then, it returned: the algebraic dilemma – two or three or four courses and the added complexity of which combination of courses would best add up to the number selected. I settled on appetizer, first course and entrée after I saw the complimentary bite-sized dessert being given to the table next to me at the end of their meal.

First came two selections of bread, both of which were placed on my bread plate: a slice of grain sourdough and a brioche topped with sea salt. Bread is my starter dessert, and when the woman asked if I’d like more bread, the left side of my brain said, “Don’t; you’ll get too full.” The right side said, “It’s too good to pass up; you have plenty of room in that empty stomaIMG_4607ch.” Out came: “Yes please”. Right side wins, and I unexpectedly was given one of each again.

Then came out my beautifully presented first choice: Madai Crudo, blood orange, cucumber and red pepper vinaigrette. The colors exploded in front of me like a bag of Sunkist candies. It’s still summer for sure! I see the French sauce spoon and am embarrassed to say that I wasn’t quite sure of its proper use. Should I break the fish with it? It’s somewhat flat, so I don’t see it being useful in scooping up that delicious vinaigrette that the snapper was bathed in. I faked it using the fork to break apart and eat the fish, alongIMG_4608 with the crispy curls of fish skin and then the ‘spoon’ for whatever less-solid remained. I cleaned up well.

The room began to fill up, and I didn’t feel so alone any more. It was a later-night dining crowd. The next course arrived. Tortellini,  tomato conserva, sweet corn, andouille, pickled chiles. It had just enough heat from the chiles and sausage to warm the tongue but not too much to burn the tummy. The little packages of pasta had the IMG_4610proper chewiness and the yin and yang of the gentle sweetness of the corn and slight sharpness pepper blended into a harmonious dish that left me wanting more….partially because of the smaller-sized portion.

Even though the waiter tried tempting me with the special pork schnitzel entrée, I told him I would reserve that for my German restaurant and go with the striped bass with goldbar squash puree, halved baby red potatoes, thai basil, roasted fennel bulb and some type of cabbage greens with the golden-browned fish draped over.

Surprisingly, probably because I went with fish versus meat, I wasn’t weighted-down full.

The two-bite-sized complementary pistachio mini muffin (but fluffier) with roasted pinapple laid in the top was enough to satisfy the need to end with a “dessert”. I’m doing it an injustice by calling it a muffin. In four bites, the two were politely completed.


My first visit I questioned why it wasn’t two-star rated. After revisiting LB last September, I recognize where Batard has some room to grow. I didn’t feel like the Queen I was crowned at the 3-star. I wasn’t asked how everything was! I want the chance to give positive feedback after each course. I will likely not return soon, as the memories are still raw, but under regular circumstances, I would want to return for the food!


Middle Class Menu; Upper Class Value

My husband and I learned of a restaurant in the late 90s on Hamburg Turnpike in Riverdale, called Rosemary & Sage. It was small and blended on a made road between houses. We drove past it, trying to find it the first time: pre-GPS. The interior was simplistic – solid colored walls with a few splashes of color in paintings. The establishment is owned by husband and wife CIA graduates Brooks Nicklas and Wendy Farber. Wendy’s brother Bruce served most of the tables while Wendy conducted the entire front of the house. It’s a family affair with a loyal customer base.

One of the draws was the constantly changing menu. Customers didn’t want to miss out on one of Brooks’ new creations. Some recent examples included: fish du jour – sautéed medallion served with seafood beggar’s purse, tarragon sauce, broccoli and roasted potatoes (28) and blackened pork chop with mango salsa, bbq Israeli cous cous and butternut squash (27). So even though it was about a 25-minute drive, we would treat ourselves; however, like for many other people, the cost became prohibitive for us. Still, I was extremely disappointed to learn that after 23 years, Rosemary & Sage’s story was ending. I would have liked to eaten there again.

In the same sentence; however, I was ecstatic to read that Brooks and Wendy were just changing the formula. Serving the 1% was no longer their target. They decided to appeal to a larger customer base…the middle-class. What more could I ask for? I knew the quality of the food would be as high as it was before. The menu items would just be restructured to allow them to reduce their prices.

I immediately made a reservation. The only seating expansion was the addition of an actual bar with high-top tables, and they now have outdoor seating, albeit on a busy Hamburg Turnpike. Wendy’s friendly face was still roaming table to table. Although she hardly remembered me (it had been over five years), I fondly remembered the basket brought to the table were her mini muffins, pepper jelly and butter. It’s always a surprise as to what type of muffins. This time they were poppy seed and carrot. Every time they are good.

Between two visits, the following dishes were sampled, and all ranged from $20.95 to $22.95. The portion size was not reduced and all the dishes were composed with CIA quality. Just listen:

Shrimp Pineapple and Cashews with Thai curry coconut sauce



Tilapia in Phyllo, crab and pecans stuffing with spring onion vinaigrette













They now also offer fancy pub fare such as pulled pork on a brioche roll. This will certainly expand their customer reach, making if more tempting for those who think Phyllo is a musical instrument. And for those who still think it’s too highfalutin, they added a takeout menu as well.

The desserts are still made in-house too. My one disappointment in the change is the name. I loved the sound of Rosemary & Sage. It sounded classy and culinary. It has been changed to Brookside Bistro, which I think understates the type of food here. I believe in brand recognition and would like everyone to recognize it’s the same ownership, the same high standards.

IMG_3222IMG_3223All you New Jerseyans who appreciate four-star quality but have two-star pockets, this place is made for you.


Tasting Tapas with Garces

This is the fourth Food Network Iron Chef’s restaurant in which I was graced with the presence of the celebrity chef not long after opening a new establishment. That is the time to see them if you are a celebrity chef stalker. The first for me was Chef Emeril Lagasse at Emeril’s in New Orleans, where he was actually cooking. The second was Mario Batali at Babbo, where he was busy in the kitchen. The third was Bobby Flay a week after he opened Gato; he was visibly sweating on the line and poking his head out to scan the dining room. The fourth, and latest, is Jose Garces at the four-week-old Amada. None were planned to seek out these chefs specifically; I was just seekingchef jose garces quality food, and I found it this evening in Battery Park, NYC, even though Chef Garces was playing overseer from the outside of the kitchen looking in.

Andalusian tapas, traditional and modern, is what’s happening here. Naturally, one wants to taste everything, so the Spanish gastronomy began with Sopa De Esparagos – White Asparagus Soup, Mushroom, Duck Butifarra (described as a duck and garlic sausage), Pistachio. Something comes over me when I order dishes that sound so fluid in another language. Suddenly I speak proper Spanish with the right inflection and all. So I didn’t order it as the “asparagus soup”.


Sopa de esparagos

While we were waiting for the train of dishes to pull in, a complementary garlic flatbread with a tuna and caper with black olive oil spread was delivered.

20160528_191704After a few spoonfuls of soup, the traditional PIQUILLOS RELLENOS – Crab Stuffed Peppers, Toasted Almonds, arrived, as well as the PULPO A LA GALLEGA – Spanish Octopus, Pureed Potato. The octopus was sliced into thick nickel-sized pieces. The flat top of each was pan seared I’m guessing to garner a crisp slight garlic and oil flavor. They sat sunken into a bed of velvety pureed potato. 20160528_192355

Then came a 10-minute welcomed digestion break. The remaining dishes were brought together: the BACALAO – Poached Black Cod, Sunflower-Chorizo Broth, Whipped Potato, dancing with complementary flavors and textures and was the star of the evening for me; the PERNIL ASADO – Roasted Pork, White Beans, Arugula & Orange, which was sold by the waiter after saying, “crispy top and juicy beneath”; and the COSTILLAS DE TERNERA – Spanish Flatbread, topped with Beef Short Ribs, Horseradish, Parmesan, Bacon, which flavor-wise was a surprisingly close second.

20160528_19573020160528_195300Not only was there no room for dessert, there were leftovers. The enjoya20160528_195318ble meal closed with me approaching Chef Garces and thanking him for putting me in a delightful food coma.


Food that Floats Your Boat in NJ

I recently had the pleasure of having a business lunch with a client I’ve known for years but never met face-to-face. He’s out of Toronto and has come to New York City but has never spent any time in New Jersey. He asked me to make the arrangements, but it needed to be near the Lincoln Tunnel for him to get back to Midtown.



This would be an easy task. It had to be waterfront dining in my mind. New Jersey is fortunate to have lots of waterfront, especially from Middlesex County south. But let’s focus on New Jersey’s Gold Coast for this purpose – or the sprawling Hudson Waterfront as most of you know it. I picked Edgewater.

These days, you can count on an increase in prices at any establishment that’s located waterfront, be it residential, commercial or retail. Dining waterfront on a beautiful spring day is unbeatable for the view, including the NYC skyline – and the calming nature of water. I made a reservation at the young restaurant Haven, which is at the edge of yet another mixed-use development that is still in progress. It already is surrounded by functioning residential and retail spaces. Its modern look offers indoor or outdoor seating and a bar.

oThe waiter was among the top friendliest and respectful servers I’ve encountered. This was lunch, so we skipped appetizers, and since nobody was sure which party was footing the bill yet, we all ordered conservatively. There’s no item, be it main entrée or sandwich, under $18 (remember, prime waterfront space equals prime rent for the landlord). When asked, the waiter suggested the Marinated Hanger Steak Salad with arugula, blue cheese, pickled red onions, avocado, croutons and red wine vinaigrette (the most expensive lunch item at $22) and the Fried Fish Po’ Boy made with Atlantic skate, sweet cucumber, tomato, romaine and garlic-lime tartar sauce. I don’t prefer a deep fried dish usually, but I love New Orleans-style food and went with his recommendation. I chose the side of mixed baby greens, rather than fries, to balance it. The fish was fried perfectly crispy, not greasy, flakey and moist on the inside. The roll was perfectly sized to its contents and was bakery fresh tasting.

If you want to impress, always land a window seat or sit outdoors at a waterfront restaurant in New Jersey. There are a number of great newcomers in Edgewater alone, including Pier 115 and Orama, and some older staples like Le Jardin and Crab House. Just drive up and down River Road from Fort Lee to Weehawken – even the non-water side of the road has the new Lobster Shack and the established La Vecchi Napoli. You’ll find something that floats your boat along the river.



rrFor those who concur that food and music can determine a good time – most hosted occasions require more than a tray of penne marinara and salad from your local pizzeria. Now I’m not saying that New Jersey’s pizzerias can’t deliver good food because we New Jerseyans know we have some of the best pizza around. I am talking about the milestone life events, such as a first-year wedding anniversary.

In August 2002, I was trying to plan something special for our one-year September anniversary. It needed to involve really good food and really good music. The standards to be met were high. My husband, although not a professional chef by trade, is an excellent cook. He was also a musician, so I knew the quality had to be high for both. While we had often eaten at fine establishments, this had to be a little more personal. I came up with the idea of hiring a personal chef for the evening and a harp player (couldn’t get one to carry their harp up my front steps, so I wound up with a classical guitarist). I didn’t know anyone who did this at the time, so I researched and came up with Chef John Deatcher/Foodini’s Catering. He’s based in Neptune, but traveled to North Jersey. Unlike some others I had contacted, John did not just offer set menus. He worked with me to create personal dishes for each course with the entrée being Chilean sea bass. We enjoyed his food so much that I hired him to cater a 40-person birthday party. He was impeccable in cleanliness too.

429639_511561445556758_1698383510_nIn 2002, there was no Facebook, so I was not privy to Robert Russo’s journey into the culinary world. We grew up in the same town, and when I found out he had opened a small, high-quality restaurant in Hasbrouck Heights, we immediately made reservations. It was 4-star food and ambience. While the Red Hen Bistro had too short a life, it was even too much for Russo to handle on top of his flourishing catering business. As much as he and everyone who set foot in there loved the restaurant, he decided to put all his efforts into Robert Andrews Caterers & Special Events. While I have not had the need to hire Robert yet in this capacity, I have had the privilege of being served his food personally. His passion for cooking is evident and his desire to “serve only the best for the best” – in his words – has propelled him to go the path of all natural and organic and no GMOs. Robert caters all types of events and provides a personal chef service as well. Maybe Robert’s catering business was not born yet in 2002, and I would not have had this option, but if you want to impress your guests who are wooed by quality food, hire this New Jersey home-grown chef. You’ll understand what it’s like to eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant.